Wartime love, escape propel immersive Remembrance

To those who swore they’d seen enough Holocaust-themed films to last a lifetime: Rescind your vow, just this once.

The German drama “Remembrance” (“Die verlorene Zeit”) is that good. It’s better than good, in fact. It’s unforgettable.

Anna Justice’s fact-based saga relates a tale of escape from war-torn Poland nearly as incredible as Agnieszka Holland’s jaw-dropping “Europa Europa” did two decades ago. At the same time, “Remembrance” cuts between the past and the present (circa 1976) with far greater emotional force than the recent “Sarah’s Key” mustered.

The epic German drama “Remembrance” tells of lovers bound by war and reunited by happenstance. photo/cornith films

The generator of all that power is a pressure-cooker love affair portrayed with such urgency, immediacy and intensity that it makes every screen romance you’ve seen in the last 10 years look like a foolish game of charades.

In other words, “Remembrance” is the whole package. This is the rare film that’s epic in scale and reach, yet effortlessly capable of touching every viewer.

“Remembrance” receives its North American premiere Tuesday, Oct. 25 in the Berlin & Beyond Film Festival at the Castro Theatre, in a co-presentation with the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and the honorary consul of Poland. The film is preceded by Werner Biedermann’s seven-minute short “Laula,” an artful ode to his relatives who perished in the Holocaust.

The other Jewish-related film in the festival, “100 Years of Hollywood: The Carl Laemmle Story,” plays at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, also at the Castro.

“Remembrance” begins in a gray concentration camp in Poland in 1944, where German Jew Hannah Silberstein (Alice Dwyer) scrubs floors in the bakery and tries to be invisible. That’s the best survival strategy, she’s learned, and her mastery of it is a big reason she makes it through the war.

I’m not giving anything away, for we’re immediately, and jarringly, shown her comfortable life in Brooklyn. Now Hannah Levine (Dagmar Manzel), she’s picking up a tablecloth from her neighborhood cleaners for a party that night when she’s stunned to overhear a television interview with a middle-age Polish ex-partisan.

Her world thrown off its axis, Hannah spends the evening ricocheting between frantic action and distracted reverie, to her husband’s puzzlement and frustration.

Tomasz Limanowski, the gentle non-Jew Hannah glimpsed on TV, is the other reason she’s alive. He was a fellow prisoner and they were secret lovers — which may sound impossible but is presented in an utterly convincing manner. (Bribery, along with Nazi efficiency and fear, kept the camps running, apparently.)

A plan has been concocted to spring Tomasz from the camp with a roll of film exposing Nazi abuses. In an impulsive and breathtaking act of courage and devotion, he takes Hannah with him.

Pam Katz’s smart script deals with familiar Holocaust themes — trust and betrayal, Polish anti-Semitism, memory and regret, the unwillingness of survivors to discuss the past — pithily and succinctly. We’re told very little but we see everything, in a glance, a gesture or one of the director’s powerfully elegant compositions.

The film purposely throws us into the middle of situations, forcing us to make snap judgments along with Hannah and Tomasz. This approach also has the effect of ratcheting the tension during their flight, a significant accomplishment given that we know their lucky fate at the outset.

The upshot is that it’s impossible to be a passive viewer of “Remembrance.” Fortunately, Justice (“Max Minsky and Me”) and Katz are diligent about rewarding our emotional commitment.

They have crafted a Holocaust saga that hits unusual and unexpected notes, and they’ve imbued a cross-cultural love story with historical insight and depth. From beginning to end, from top to bottom, “Remembrance” is an immersive, intelligent and altogether satisfying experience.

See it, then go ahead and make a new promise.

  screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. In German and English with English subtitles. (Not rated, 105 minutes)

Michael Fox

Michael Fox is a longtime film journalist and critic, and a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle. He teaches documentary classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute programs at U.C. Berkeley and S.F. State. In 2015, the San Francisco Film Society added Fox to Essential SF, its ongoing compendium of the Bay Area film community's most vital figures and institutions.